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Reducing the Risk of Revictimization: A New Study

An unpublished report based on a Department of Justice study titled "Preventing Revictimization in Teen Dating Relationships" has just been released, and contains some thought-provoking results. The study was conducted under the direction of Dr. Anne P. DePrince of the Traumatic Stress Studies Group of the University of Denver. Briefly, they conducted research with high-risk adolescent girls involved in the child welfare system, with the goal of preventing revictimization. They tested two intervention programs. The programs were based on:

  • a social-learning/feminist approach, focusing on concepts such as sexism and beliefs about relationships
  • a risk-detection/executive function approach, focusing on building skills for responding to risky situations and improving executive function (reasoning, problem-solving, mental flexibility).

The study participants were a diverse group of young women with extensive trauma histories as children. Both of these interventions were associated with a significant decrease in sexual and physical revictimization by dating partners during the course of the study. The study was also notable in that these girls participated outside of a school setting, and 70% of both groups completed the interventions, which consisted of twelve sessions with a structured curriculum.

Two of the researchers (DePrince and Shirk, 2013) have also published a very interesting article on incorporating mindfulness-based therapeutic interventions in individual treatment with depressed teen girls who have trauma histories. In the present group intervention study, the risk-detection/executive function model uses mindfulness techniques to teach teens to shift, inhibit, and focus attention. This makes sense when we consider that young people who have been victimized in childhood have often learned to detach and avoid as coping mechanisms. However, these strategies do not serve them well in high-risk situations in adolescence, when staying attuned to danger signals is important to increasing safety.

In our field, we tend to be comfortable with incorporating concepts from the social learning/feminist framework in prevention and intervention efforts. This research confirms the value of this approach, but also suggests some promising results from the alternative approach of teaching girls with complex trauma histories certain cognitive skills that may help to reduce the risk of revictimization.

Action Items:

  • Explore some topics listed in the mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioral therapy protocol in DePrince & Shirk, 2013, p. 192-193. These topics contain links to the materials on which they were based.
  • Compare the Social Learning/Feminism curriculum topics to the Risk Detection/Executive Function topics on pages 19-21 of the Preventing Revictimization in Teen Dating Relationships report. Consider which of these topics you currently address in your work with teen survivors, and which you may want to consider adding.
  • Have a conversation that includes both therapists and advocates to brainstorm how to help teens prevent revictimization by improving skills while at the same time clearly reinforcing the message that teen survivors are not to blame in any way for having been victimized.

References

  1. DePrince, A., Chu, A., Labus, J., Shirk, S., & Potter, C. (2013). Preventing Revictimization in Teen Dating Relationships. Department of Justice. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/244086.pdf
  2. DePrince, A., & Shirk, S. (2013). Adapting cognitive-behavioral therapy for depressed adolescents exposed to interpersonal trauma: A case study with two teens. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice 20, 189-201. Retrieved from http://mysite.du.edu/~adeprinc/DPShirk2013.pdf
  3. Margolies, L. (2011). Executive Function Problem or Just a Lazy Kid: Part 1. Psych Central. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/lib/executive-function-problem-or-just-a-lazy-kid-part-1/0009272
  4. University of Denver Traumatic Stress Studies Group. Full-Text Articles. http://www.du.edu/tssgroup/publications/articles.html
Reviewed: September 22nd, 2015